Ultimately, the most inspiring gardens reveal their beauty not at once but in a series of moments and delights. High above Lake Michigan on the bluffs of the North Shore, a young couple and their three children bought a Glencoe home to give them more space to play and entertain. The couple hired the award-winning firm of Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects to renovate the existing landscape and to create a series of garden rooms that are revealed in subsequent order.
Abie Baldwin, PLA, head of the firm’s residential studio, and firm partner Douglas Hoerr met with family members to explore their needs and to become familiar with their wish list. At the top of the list were an open lawn for the kids to play, a variety of spaces for entertaining, a pool, beach access from the steep bluff and more privacy.
While entering the property via the sweeping driveway, the visitor is greeted with a park-like feel. The plant palette begins to emerge as evergreen trees, shrubs and groundcovers provide year-round interest. The foliage plays an important role in providing texture and structure. Groundcovers such as spreading juniper and pachysandra are planted in large swaths that add layers to the ground plane. In the cold climates, and especially the Midwest, it is a core design principle that the evergreens such as Upright Yew and Arborvitae provide the bones of the garden. A large planting of Anabelle Hydrangea, with it huge white blooms, adds light.
A series of low walls starts to differentiate the very public space from the very private. Pass through the first set of walls, enter into the parking court and then continue through the second set of walls that lead to the front entertaining courtyard. Off the living room, the courtyard, bound by low walls and clipped yew hedges, provides space for gathering.
The floor of the garden room is made of concrete slabs to reflect the “sliding plane” architecture of the house. All of the walls are made of brick to match the home. “The walls and hedges were designed to feel like an extension of the architecture: low, long lines. The courtyard has a fireplace with comfortable furniture as well as a small lawn for fenced play for the children and dogs,” says Abie Baldwin. “This is a wonderful area to entertain but the main area where the family entertains is in the back of the house overlooking the lake.”
In the initial meetings, the decision was made to move the existing pool from the front of the house to the back. Abie says: “It just didn’t feel right. When you live on the lake, you typically want to spend most of your time on that side of the house and capitalize on the views.” They worked closely with the architect, interior designer and contractor so that all of the elements flowed seamlessly. Moving the pool to the back was no small feat. There were many obstacles that involved engineering and structural components. The neighboring houses were very close and one could easily look into the proposed area for the pool. The pool was sighted and the team set to work.
The main floor of the home on the lakeside has a large deck that extends the entire length of the house and offers many possibilities for entertaining. This area is connected to the lower-level terrace that includes the infinity pool, spa and sunning area. The terrace is made of buff limestone and the pool was finished with a dark tile and plaster to closely match the color of Lake Michigan. The railing was made of stainless steel and wire cable to maximize the views of the lake. Holes in the limestone were cut to plant Honey Locust trees that provide shade for the chaise lounges.
Below the pool terrace is a wonderful sunrise terrace where you can sit with your back to the infinity waterfall and take advantage of the lake view. The terrace is low enough so you don’t see it from the pool area until you start to descend the stairs. From the sunrise terrace, there are steps that descend all the way down to the beach of Lake Michigan. A wood deck and storage structure provide ample room for beach toys, the sunfish and furniture.
In addition to the evergreens and trees, the flowering component to the garden includes shades of white and purple to keep the palette fairly muted. “We interjected a few ‘wow’ moments with Globemaster and Purple Sensation Allium along the pool and in the front courtyard,” Abie says. These are followed by Verbena bonariensis later in the summer and there is an unexpected planting of wildflowers down the bluff overlooking the lake.
In the five years that the family has lived in the house, the plantings have been able to mature and bask in their full glory. In a city where a frigid six months out of the year makes it difficult to enjoy the beauty of outdoors, all involved collaborated to create a stunning design that can be fully enjoyed for the six months that are entirely fabulous.